2018 deadliest year yet for Syrian children: UN

UNICEF says it verified 1,106 child deaths from fighting last year, the highest annual toll since the war began in 2011.

    UNICEF is concerned about violence in Idlib, where 59 children have been reported killed in recent weeks [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]
    UNICEF is concerned about violence in Idlib, where 59 children have been reported killed in recent weeks [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

    Last year was the deadliest yet for children in Syria, the United Nations has said, issuing a dire warning as the devastating war is about to enter its ninth year.

    UNICEF, the world body's children's agency, said in a statement on Monday it had been able to verify 1,106 child deaths from fighting in 2018 - the highest annual toll since the conflict broke out in 2011.

    It warned, however, that the true figure was likely to be even higher.

    "Today, there exists an alarming misconception that the conflict in Syria is drawing quickly to a close; it is not," executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

    "Children in parts of the country remain in as much danger as at any other time during the eight-year conflict."

    The biggest cause of child casualties was unexploded ordnance, which accounted for 434 deaths and injuries last year, UNICEF said.

    Syria's war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions out of the country.

    Turkey and Russia, one of the Syrian government's staunchest allies, brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarised zone in the northwest Idlib region that would be free of all heavy weapons and fighters.

    The deal helped avert a government assault on the region, the last major bastion of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

    But Fore said she was concerned about the intensification of violence in Idlib, where 59 children have been reported killed in recent weeks.

    "UNICEF again reminds parties to the conflict and the global community that it is the country's children who have suffered most and have the most to lose. Each day the conflict continues is another day stolen from their childhood," said Fore.

    Since January, about 60 children have died trying to get to al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, which is now home to more than 65,000 people fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) , according to the UN.

    Thousands have flooded al-Hol camp as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) lay siege to the last vestige of ISIL's territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

    "Syria is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child, with ongoing violence, insecurity and displacement," said Caroline Anning, spokeswoman for Save the Children.

    "Even where conflict has subsided, the risk from explosive remnants of war like landmines and cluster munitions is growing."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies